What Kayaking Means to Me


Thanks so much to all of the women sent in paragraphs sharing what kayaking means to them. There is a common thread of confidence, adventure, freedom and friendship. I think we can all agree that kayaking is a very powerful and transformative sport. We were only going to share a few of the entries but we couldn’t decide on which ones so we are sharing them all. Enjoy looking into everyone’s perspective and passion for kayaking.

However, we were able to decide on our favorite. After reading all of them and discussing the entries, we agreed that the first paragraph below, written by Dee Phillips is captivating, inspiring and spells out kayaking very nicely. Congratulations Dee!

Dee Philips – Winner of Yakima Big Stack Stackers!!
Kayaking means new challenges, new friends, new places and new vocabulary. Almost a year ago, a kayak was my 60th birthday present to me. This age hit me more than turning 40 ever did – guess 60 really is the new 40!  More aware that the road ahead is shorter than that behind, I made a conscious choice to focus forward. While I do check the “rearview mirror” for reference, this new challenge of paddling a little boat in whitewater keeps me engaged and energized. Kayaking is, literally and figuratively, keeping me looking ahead. The challenges are physical and mental, but the rewards are spiritual – seeing the river as a metaphor for life. Grasping the essence of Heraclitus’ observation that one never steps in the same river twice since the water is never the same and neither are we. The gnarly water; and the deep, calm pools; the drops, holes, and eddies. There are times it’s helpful to be able to roll, and at others there’s nothing to do but “wet exit” a situation, however ungracefully: that’s life! Time on the river provides moments where I am alone in my head, intensely focused, yet surrounded by an ever expanding group of new paddling friends. There is support and laughter. Paddling is enticing me to explore new places and some familiar ones in new ways. Whether it is a river I have seen every day driving over the bridge to one in a new country. Wherever the end of this run is, I intend to boof it!

Angela Garrison
As a child I was given lots of rules to live by and ideas on what types of things can be accomplished by the average working person. I was supposed to go to college, get a job, get married and raise a family. That’s what women do.  So I got my degree and went to work in the real world. And that was fine. And then one day I started running. I had been told I wasn’t built like a runner and that it was bad for you anyway. But here I was running.  Just a couple miles at first but that turned into runs of ten miles or more. So while I was out running, I started wondering what other limits I had created that really didn’t exist. And then I started kayaking. I ran my first river, the Hiwassee, with some kayaking friends. It scared me to death and I swore if I made it to the end in one piece I’d never do it again. Well, I survived, and here I am almost four years later, totally addicted to whitewater. Two seasons ago I was swimming my way down the Ocoee, and now I’m leading new boaters down for their first time.  Kayaking has taught me that there are no limits. That box that my family drew out for me is imaginary.  I can step out of it at any time. When I’m kayaking I’m totally out of the box, and I have to admit that even though it’s a little scary some times, I love it out here.

Melanie Rausch
Kayaking has become the center of my life these last few years. I so enjoy being on the river, but it’s more than the beauty and fun, it’s the unique ability to share a passion. It’s becoming confident on the water and in my everyday life. It’s given me the strength to run the rapids of a good life, to enjoy the ability to be happy and have fun in all that I accomplish. The incredible friendships and support balance my thoughts. It hasn’t been easy to reach this confidence but I didn’t give up, kept at it and finally can relax and love everything I do. Thank you to Girls at Play for showing that I am brave! Have a great summer! SYOTR!!

Kayaking means being free from the stresses of life and having the chance to do amazing things and meet amazing people. It’s about gaining a second family and always knowing that no matter what river you’re on someone will always have your back. Kayaking is about having a chance to be confident and show others what you can do, it offers exciting and life changing experiences. Without kayaking not only would my life be very dull but I would not have a whole group of amazing friends from all over the country who are always there if I need to talk.

Tanya Dias
Kayaking, to me, is an everlasting relationship with Mother Nature and what she has to offer you is something you will crave for over and over again; moments of peace and adrenaline all wrapped up in one. All that surrounds you are the sights and smells of the wooded areas, the canyon walls, and the wildlife, which occasionally includes a fish or two jumping up out of the water.  It’s in these moments when you realize that it is just you with a paddle in hand, in the middle of a river paddling toward the rapid ahead.

This activity has become a major part of my life, it has boosted my confidence, made me a healthier person and has made me more aware of who I am. There are times —without a doubt— that I have been pushed to my limits and I certainly welcome those challenges. It is those challenges that have helped improve my abilities and has resulted in the moments that I have to actually pinch myself to know that what I am really doing isn’t a dream but is reality.

Kayaking means a lot to me in the sense that I get to experience nature in a different kind of way yet, the best thing about kayaking is the family that emerges within the boating community; and I am lucky enough to have a wonderful river family that I work on the river and go traveling to other rivers with. Ultimately, out of all the moments I have experience with them, the best moment is when old and new friends are around me laughing, telling stories, and smiling around a campfire. It is in that moment, when I sit there silently listening and looking at each person’s face, I know that they are all ready for the next adventure.

Cynthia LaLuna
Kayaking to me is about strength: physical and mental.
While I love the “wheeeee!” factor of hitting the right line on a fun rapid, it’s a fleeting thrill that’s over until the next time.
Knowing that I have the mental fortitude to face the rapid in the first place and the physical strength to load my boat, unload my boat, carry it to the put-in and paddle down the river (and sometimes swim and empty my boat) is what stays with me every day, even when I’m off the water. It spills over into my overall sense of self, and helps me make better business decisions and maintain discipline in other areas of my life.
Also, kayaking means friendships – I’ve met more wonderful, warm, intelligent, fun people in one year learning to paddle than in the previous ten years put together. Whitewater kayakers are a beautiful tribe and I’m amazed to be a part of it.

Katie Prince
Kayaking finally means fun to me. It has been a long journey to get to the place that I can consider it fun instead of stressful. Don’t get me wrong; I would not change the journey for any amount of money. I had to walk it to get to the big smiles I have today. In the past, my ego and competitive drive robbed every ounce of joy I possibly felt. I boated with a group that was on a constant mission to “step it up”. While they were fine with my shortcomings in skills and technique, I beat myself up for swims and for being gripped 90% of the time.  When we were running Wilson Creek at +3, my thoughts were on peaceful trips on the Nanty or FB9. I got beat down on Wilson Creek one day and for all intents and purposes, walked away from boating. My old crew still welcomes me with open arms. They would still collect my gear to this day. They would still push me (willingly) to the far reaches of my comfort zone. They are great guys, and I admire and love each and every one of them. However, my boating days with them are not frequent anymore. While they are hucking the gnars, I have found a new crew to boat with. One that does not necessarily force me to push my limits but that is fine with a float on the Nanty or FB9. Through this new boating family I has recently decided to switch over to the dark side and pick up learning to OC1. I am excited about my new journey and hope that I can continue to look at being on the water, no matter the craft, no matter the body of water, as big fun.

Shaina M. Sabatine
Many wonder why I love whitewater kayaking so much. After the two seasons it took for me to learn to roll consistently in flat water, subtle hints from discouraging onlookers that I would never be that good because I am a girl, and the multiple blows I’ve taken to the head from those pesky rocks that hang out in rivers – it’s a great question to ponder!  In the beginning, my desire to prove that I could do this sport kept me going. Now, I kayak for myself – for both the physical and mental challenges. I often claim that kayaking is the hardest and scariest sport I have ever done, but that it is also my favorite sport.  For me, kayaking is both an exercise in perseverance and a great avenue for adventurous women to empower themselves.  It is exciting to find a sport where there will always be something new to learn, somewhere new to travel, and so many new boaters to meet that are just as psyched to be on the river as you…isn’t it?

Penny McLean
Kayaking embodies many facets of my life. When I was in utero, we had a carbon monoxide gas leak in our home that took my sister’s life, just before her second birthday. As a result, my left lung stopped growing, while it functions, it does not have the same volume capacity as the right.  It has not prevented me from living life though – I still played sports and gave it all I had.  Volleyball, baseball, hockey, waterskiing…were all prominent aspects of my life.  Just have a paper bag handy!
I have a fear of being upside down in my kayak, because I feel that I do not have as long as the average person to roll back over. I have the fastest wet exit escape of anyone I know! I am determined to find that place inside of me, where the calm resides, where life slows down and there is clarity of mind in order to conquer the roll. I believe that once I have a solid roll, I will push out the boundaries of the rivers I paddle.
I have always heard of people talking of this intangible concept:  Live in the Moment. I knew what they meant, however, I had not experienced it. How do you release all that consumes your mind, timelines, to-do lists, kids extracurricular activities, what you need to pick up at the grocery store, what are you making for dinner tonight, work problem solving, etc? How do you let go of all of that which makes up your daily grind and be present in the moment?  Kayak.
As an engineer, I am methodical, planned, and very analytical.  I like to map out my next move – apply logic to everything I do. I was entering the current and tried to plan my next paddle stroke. The river is ever-changing and does not conform to what you plan. I swam.  It was an epiphany!  I realised in that moment that I need to let go and not anticipate, not think of the future, not even as far as a paddle stroke away. To be present in this moment.
Kayaking is the release of everything that occupies my mind. It is my stillness, my connection with all aspects of nature, all that Mother Nature has to offer. When I am in my boat, nothing else exists. It is a conscious meditation.
Kayaking is my happy place.

Julia Johnson
I buried my dear friend one week and I went kayaking the next. He was 22, like me, and months earlier he showed me his gravesite, which he had picked himself after the words ‘terminal cancer’ entered his life. He knew he was dying, we all did, yet he never gave up on living. He denied aggressive treatment out of respect for the quality of his remaining life. I will forever admire his incredible awareness of his body, his mind, and his soul. Kayaking requires that I respect my full self and the quality of my own life just like he did. The river reminds me that I am here, now, and here is beautiful. My friend died, and I will too, but he always spoke to the difference between living and being alive. Every time I kayak I feel closer to learning what he knew so well. -Written in memory of Theo (4/12/12).

Peiting Lien
What Kayaking means to me- The first time when I was exposed to white water kayaking I thought to myself “why would anyone subject themselves to such torture of the river that when you thought you’re close to the eddy behind the rock, you get turned around! And besides, what is an eddy anyway!” Then I decided to try it again few years later. Then I was hooked. Kayaking is like reliving a childhood adventure every time I get into
my kayak. I can’t fall asleep the night before and get up before the alarm goes off at the crack of dawn to drive 3 hours away for a river and then drive back all on the same day. I get butterflies before every paddle as I run around the house getting all the gear ready more than I do before a date. I love the ability to work all my muscles including my face all within seconds – from eyes growing big to squinting at the rapids intensely and turn all that to a huge smile after running through a rapid. Then at the end of the day fall asleep with a huge smile on my face knowing that I challenged my limits in spite of my fears and potential insecurities of my skill set. It is also a reminder of how intricate our body works as I work with my patients teaching them how to return to their prior of function again as a Physical therapist. To me, it a reminder to enjoy life like a kid – be in awe, be challenged, be inspired by the power and beauty of the river – doesn’t matter how many time the river potentially beat me up. And most importantly, it is a reminder of being thankful for being alive!

Natalie Griffith
Kayaking is…
my refuge, my release, my meditation, my community, my teacher and coach and mentor. It has opened doors and hearts to me and has opened my mind and heart and door to many wonderful others. I wish I had found it earlier in life, but I am glad I did find it, and I intend to kayak until I die!

Michelle Eady
Kayaking means a lot to me. The sound of my paddle dipping into the water brings a calmness over my whole body and prepares me for the thundering sound of rapids around the corner. The feeling of water hitting my face when paddling hard through a big wave brings a feeling of confidence and accomplishment. Kayaking means a lot to me because it is my time to be me. It makes me feel free and powerful and at the same time it puts a fear into my body that ends in complete happiness whether I have to roll, swim, or successfully paddle through a set of rapids I once looked at thinking “that looks scary, but fun.”

Laura Heron
I discovered kayaking after I’d gotten divorced, when I was still struggling with who I was as a single woman and mother. It got me out of the house and out of my head and into nature doing something exciting with other people. This was about 7 or 8 years ago. Kayaking has given me a super fun activity to look forward to and enjoy. It has given me a network of great friends. Thru kayaking I met my awesome boyfriend of almost 7 years. It has built my confidence and helped keep me fit.  It has given me a reason to expand my horizons by traveling to Mexico and Costa Rica with Girls at Play. I’m turning 51 this month, and I feel better than ever physically, mentally and spiritually. I attribute this in a large degree to my kayaking. I am doing class 4 now and feel so proud of myself! I hope to stay on the whitewater at least until I’m 70.  A big thanks to Girls At Play for helping me on this journey!

Marcia L. Stanton
a chance to explore the rivers…paddle the lakes and streams…quietly glide thru mangroves and see herons, alligators, etc. up close without disturbing them…feeling strong when I can load it on my car by myself…sharing a day floating downstream with a group of friends…sunbathing, reading, eating lunch out on the water at the local reservoir instead of fighting traffic to get to the shore…an occasional whitewater trip…a bit of exercise…such a simple thing does so much and more!!

Cathy Greenwell
I am the captain of my ship. There is only me and my boat. I have never participated in any activity that has made me feel as “present” as white water kayaking does. Add the “fleet” component of “never fewer than three we shall be” for learning, safety and training; it truly is a special environment, no matter which river, which feature, those fellow paddlers are the oxygen to safety, fun and accomplishment. There is a gift of energy I receive from being on the water, my return thank you is to leave it better than I found it.

Aimee Norris
I always refer to kayaking as my church. It’s a way to do something I more than love to do, no distractions just the water and me. I can be as serious and heavily sweating preacher or as light hearted as a kindergartener teacher! Kayaking allows me release any and all frustrations I may have and I am always learning or being challenged. It can provide me with the greatest of confidence and be humbled all at the same time. I personally think kayaking helps me be a better parent both mentally and physically. I met my husband kayaking on the water about 8yrs ago, we love it all so much we even named our son River. Kayaking for me is an amazing social sport as well as a person developing growth experience.

Donna Morgan
To me kayaking means freedom, peace, joy, fear, elation, trepidation, accomplishment, excitement, adrenalin, relaxation, friendship, love, security, insecurity, challenges, growth. It is the most rewarding activity I have ever participated in and has changed my life in ways I can’t even articulate.

Carla DeVelder
I have never loved a sport until I started kayaking. Oh sure, I like sports in general and enjoy participating in a number of them. But I have never loved a sport until kayaking came along. I love it for the opportunity it gives me to enjoy nature and the epic views you can only see from a kayak. I love paddling along with the geese and their goslings at my nearby lake. I love looking down a river and trying to figure out what is around the bend, sometimes hearing it before you even get to see it! I love it because it gives me a chance to meet amazing people and have wonderful experiences with them. It gives me an adrenaline rush and pushes me to try new things. I love the constant learning so I never can get bored. In short, kayaking makes me feel alive!

If you’re interested in learning how to get into kayaking just like these ladies, check out our Beginner Whitewater Clinics and kayaking getaways in Costa Rica!